Basam Seng


Sheen recently posted a poem about being a Japanese schoolgirl. Yes, well, it’s her thwarted ambition. I think it’s a bit demeaning, personally. I mean, she’s always putting herself down. So that’s why I’m posting this poem of hers without her knowing, which has far more merit, in my opinion. It’s a free translation of a folk classical Tausug poem; maybe some of you aren’t aware of the fact that Tausug is one of the many Philippine languages that are not quite extinct yet. Tagalo (which forms the basis of modern Filipino) and English (inevitably) have just about imposed their hegemony on the others, but here at Zaragoza Twins, we are always on the lookout for cultural masterpieces in fragile languages such as this one, “Basam Seng”. We think it’s important to preserve these pieces, not just because of the language, but because of the actual linguistic artefact itself; in this case, a poem which has been transmitted orally from generation to generation. Sheen’s translation captures the folk wisdom of a millenary culture, skilfully employing the everyday experience of doing one’s shopping to illustrate metaphorically the demise of a peasant lifestyle threatened by Western so-called civilisation.




Basam Seng


Darzig watare ku nehui feei

Batang li wai turshiw sok

Ayan erg, ayan warg,

Sien hueng, limiyang.


Kahnu jung se, arui

We leng sisaw kai.

Rajiu nemare irzig kang

Basam, setsi ruw?


Fong kaxi le, sik buy giu

Rakeng ow basam melare ku.




G r a n d m a’s  m a r g a r i n e


One my way back from the market

The other day I realised I had a hell

Of a blister, on the back of my heel,

But I managed to get home, limping a bit.


The thing is, it slowed me down

And I didn’t want to dawdle.

I had a few cold items in my bag

And what would I do if my margarine were to melt?


Against my better judgement, I hailed a cab

And got home before the marg went all rancid on me.



Translation by Sheen Martínez



2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Waldo on July 9, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!! When i saw your translation of “Basam Seng”, my heart jumped for joy! My mother used to recite this poem (and many others) when I was a kid. It’s the first time I see it in English. Congratulations, Sheen Martinez, you did a great job!
    Beng waxi! Mahal kitang! Will you marry me?


  2. Posted by zaragozatwins on July 10, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Sheen says:

    You flatter me, Waldo. Thanks for the marriage proposal; the answer is NO.


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